Chris Kirtland was named head baseball coach at Jones County Junior College on Dec. 2, 2015.
Six months and two days later, Kirtland led the Bobcats to their first-ever NJCAA Division II World Series championship with a 7-1 victory over GateWay College (Arizona) Saturday night at David Allen Memorial Ballpark.
"It is an incredible feat because the record speaks for itself," Kirtland said of the 54-9 Bobcats, which is a single season school record for victories. "The players worked so hard all year and the players were able to win when it counts in the postseason.
"It's such a significant accomplishment to win that many games in a baseball season. This is the hardest sport there is and winning baseball games is one of the hardest things to do. All of the credit goes to our coaching staff and our players for executing the plan and sticking to the process all year long."
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Gulfport freshman Ben Stiglets was outstanding in the title game.
He pitched a complete game, scattering eight hits, allowing one run and striking out eight as he improved to 10-0. Stiglets only lasted an inning in JCJC's 11-9 loss to GateWay on May 30.
Kirtland was pleased to see Stiglets and the entire team bounce back to beat GateWay twice in the tournament.
"I am so proud of Ben," Kirtland said. "He faced these guys when we lost and did not do too well. But he had a chance to rebound, get some redemption and he pitches a complete game. You can't ask for any more than that.
"It always helps to get slapped in the face so you can see how you are going to respond. These guys responded well."
After losing the earlier game to the Geckos, JCJC faced elimination in three straight games. But the Bobcats, who did not lose back-to-back games the entire season, responded.
"You don't really think about that when you are facing elimination," Kirtland said. "It was really great to see these guys bounce back and win three in a row to win the title."
The Bobcats took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first when leadoff batter Clint Sasser walked and Tanner Huddleston was hit by a pitch. Erick Hoard, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, then ripped a double to the wall in center to score Sasser and Mason Irby followed with an RBI single.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth when Huddleston annihilated a ball to left-center, a 400-foot shot to make it 3-0. With two outs in the inning, Irby crushed a shot over the rightfield bleachers.
Shelton Wallace then led off the sixth with a home run to left to give the Bobcats a 5-0 lead.
All of those runs came against GateWay lefthander Garrett Poole, who entered the game with 13 wins -- the most wins of any pitcher in the nation.
"They had a tricky arm out there who kept us off balance," Kirtland said of Poole. "We were finally able to get locked in on him and get some home runs that were big. We were able to add some runs late in the game, too."
The Bobcats made it 6-0 in the seventh when Hoard singled and John Alan Wall was hit by a pitch. After Wallace walked, Hoard was able to score on a wild pitch.
The Geckos got on the board in the eighth when Brady Hettinger led off with a single, took second on a groundout, stole third and scored on Nathan Chokey's groundout.
JCJC's final run came in the bottom of the eighth when Sasser led off with a double, was sacrificed to third by Fred Franklin and scored on Huddleston's triple into the rightfield corner.
Kirtland said the championship contest was JCJC's best game of the season.
"I think we played our most complete game of the season in the national championship game, which is special," he said. "We had to sweep a doubleheader to win it and that's something this team has done a lot this year. They came out from the start, had a plan to execute to win two games and were able to win a national championship."
"We got some really solid pitching throughout the tournament and it helps to score a significant amount of runs and these guys did that. We made the plays when we needed to and these guys were able to experience victory in a national championship and there is nothing sweeter than that."
JCJC pounded out 15 hits on the evening, led by Huddleston's home run, triple and single and Hoard's double and two singles. Irby homered and singled, Sasser doubled and singled and Parker singled twice. Wallace added a home run and Franklin and Wall had singles.
JCJC ended the year with a .352 team batting average, which ranked first in the MACJC and sixth nationally.
"This offense has been great all season and they did not disappoint in the postseason," Kirtland said. "We hit the ball well this week."
Poole, 13-2, took the loss for GateWay. He allowed five runs (all earned), 10 hits, walked one and struck out three. Seth Nordlin and Brock Whittlesey also pitched for the Geckos.
Bryce Redaja doubled and singled twice for GateWay, while Ian Evans had two singles. Jeffrey Chandler, Brady Hettinger and Matt Asta added singles.
GateWay ends the year at 43-22.
Kirtland was a member of head coach Christian Ostrander's staff when the Bobcats made it to the World Series in 2011 and finished second to Western Oklahoma.
He was thrilled to see the Bobcats prevail this time.
"We came here in 2011 and we were disappointed because we came up one game short," he said. "It was really cool to see the JCJC Bobcats finish on top this time."